UNITED NATIONS — The United States lost its seat Thursday on the top U.N. human rights body for the first time since the commission was formed in 1947.
The 53-member U.N. Human Rights Commission, which usually meets in Geneva, makes recommendations for the protection and promotion of human rights, either on its own initiative or at the request of the General Assembly or the Security Council.
Regional groups at the United Nations nominate candidates for the commission and the United States came in last among the four candidates nominated for three seats in its group, after France, Austria and Sweden.
In the balloting, France got 52 votes, Austria 41 votes, Sweden 32 votes and the United States 29 votes.
“It was an election, understandably, where we’re very disappointed,” acting U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham said after the vote. “This won’t at all, of course, affect our commitment to human rights issues in and outside of the United Nations. We’ll continue to pursue them.”
U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson expressed hope the United States “will return speedily as a member of the commission,” spokesman Jose Luis Diaz said in a statement released in Geneva.
“The United States of America has made a historic contribution to the Commission on Human Rights,” the statement said, noting that the first U.S. representative on the body, Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, “helped shape the commission and its vision of an International Bill of Human Rights.”
Election to seats on U.N. bodies usually involves intense lobbying by diplomats.
The United States has been at a diplomatic disadvantage since January with the departure of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, an appointee of former President Clinton. President Bush nominated veteran diplomat John Negroponte as U.N. ambassador in March, but his nomination has not yet been sent to the Senate.
The United States has been in the forefront of efforts to condemn the human rights records of China, Cuba and other countries at the commission’s Geneva meetings.
Cunningham refused to speculate on whether the U.S. ouster from the commission was the result of growing anger against the United States for taking too many unilateral positions on issues such as a national missile defense shield and pulling out of the 1997 Kyoto treaty to curb global warning.
“We had too many candidates for too few seats,” he said. “I don’t want to speculate on what might have been the motives underlying the outcome of the election.”
France lost its seat in 1977 and Britain was voted off in both 1977 and 1991.
Other countries elected to the commission were Bahrain, South Korea and Pakistan from the Asia Group, and Croatia and Armenia from the Eastern Europe Group. The Latin America Group selected Chile and Mexico without a vote, and the African Group chose Sierra Leone, Sudan, Togo and Uganda, also without a vote.
Asked whether it was awkward for the United States to have lost when Sudan had been chosen for a commission seat, Cunningham refused to comment.
“We’re disappointed in the outcome. We very much wanted to serve on the commission. I’ll leave it at that for the time being,” he said.